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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When the back of the box isn't enough

From 1966, I give you Betty Crocker's Cake and Frosting Mix Book:

Notice that's cake AND frosting mix. They tell you all kindsa stuff you can do with frosting mixes too, like making meringues or fudge or fondant out of frosting mix, or "Children's Surprises" such as Cheerios-Peanut Butter Fudge Balls, Cheerios-Fudge Confections, or Frozen Cheerios Squares. (Yes, Betty Crocker is the official imaginary spokeslady of General Mills, which makes Cheerios. But GM makes other cereals too, don't they?
Not as far as this book is concerned.)

Anyway. I'm fascinated by cookbooks which purport to tell one how to cook when really they aren't telling you to do anything of the sort. These days, we have the Cake Mix Doctor, a presumably very nice lady who advises readers to do unspeakable things with cake mixes, often to the point of adding enough extra ingredients to them that you could have made a perfectly good dessert without using the cake mix in the first place. And then there is the More is Better school of cake-mix doctoring, where inconceivable amounts of sugar and artificial flavor are combined into a sinkhole of cloying sweetness, like this "Strawberry Creme Cake" which I actually saw some crazy lady making on TV--strawberry cake mix (ever tried that? If you're not diabetic, probably not), a can of strawberry nectar instead of water (that's another 200 calories), strawberry jam between the layers, and a can of that glycerin-rich, gluey strawberry frosting to top it off.

And speaking of TV cooking shows, can I just say that I saw a lady making cinnamon toast on one a few months ago, and she actually told people you didn't have to use cinnamon if you didn't want to. That some people liked the way it spices up the toast, but that plain sugar was good too. I submit to you that when cinnamon toast without cinnamon is the topic of a TV cooking show, we have too many cooking shows on TV.

Anyway. None of that here. This book has some dumb ideas, sure, but it also spends a lot of time suggesting harmless ways to decorate cakes (dig the Tootsie Rolls on the chocolate cowboy cake!), and has extensive sections on frosting techniques. It also contains what strikes me as a completely superfluous section on "basics." If you can't follow the three steps on the box, I fail to see how two chapters of additional reading are going to help you. Still, we are treated to the Q&A "Why Isn't My Cake Perfect?" (NINE different categories of failure are possible--and you used a CAKE MIX!!! Who's the real failure here?). We also get the 911 call "I Have a Frosting Problem!" Two potential problems for "creamy-type" frostings (too thick and too thin), four for "fluffy-type" (not "beating up," stickiness (?), rubberiness, and "disintegration," an alarming concept to say the least).

More as the week progresses and my meds kick in.


At 7:01 PM, Blogger Lidian said...

Susan, I have the very same book and you describe it perfectly...Betty C. is quite a hoot, is she not?

I'm looking forward to more from you on this very lovely book :)

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Susan said...

Oo, have you tried any of the recipes? We tried the checkerboard cake on page 80, but it didn't turn out well enough to photograph. You really need to use 8" pans instead of the recommended 9", I think. Our layers were too long and skinny for the blocks to look square. Or perhaps cake mixes don't rise as high as they did in the 60's, but that seems unlikely.


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